Tamil actor and superstar Rajinikanth's son-in-law Dhanush will be at the Cannes Film Festival's India Pavilion this May to promote an Indo-French production of his, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir. The event will unfold on May 11 – which is being touted as India Day, which will also see the only entry from the country this year in the Festival's official sections, Nandita Das' Manto, on a rebel Pakistani writer-thinker, being introduced to the gathering at the Pavilion.
It is still not known when Manto will be shown at the Festival's A Certain Regard – which has in the course of my 28 years to Cannes, developed into a platform showcasing budding talent (Manto is only Das' second film after Firaaq, set some days after the Gujarat riots in which hundreds of people were massacred) and radically different ideas. Manto wrote most candidly on what he saw, and this included his observations on prostitutes. Obviously, he irked the authorities, who slapped legal cases against him for obscenity.
Das had introduced Manto at Cannes last year with a trailer – a kind of ritual Indian filmmakers from Shekhar Kapoor (Paani) to Mani Ratnam (Raavan/Raavanan) to Madhur Bhandarkar (Heroine) to Sundar C (Sangamithra) have faithfully followed. Often, though without results. While Kapoor's Paani (on water wars) may never take off, Ratnam's work went to Venice, not Cannes, while Bhandarkar had a trying time post the Festival with Aishwarya Rai quitting his film saying that she was pregnant and Sundar returned to Chennai after a big bash there to find Shruti Hassan doing an a la Rai. Miss Hassan walked out of the project citing a reason as flimsy as the producer/director's failure to furnish her with a bound script!
Happily, Das' Cannes sojourn bore fruit, and Manto is in – after a gap of a few years when Indian cinema failed to find a berth in the Festival. In fact, there has not been an Indian title in Cannes Competition since the mid-1990s.
This year, we will have Dhanush and maybe Bernice Bejo (The Artist, The Past) in attendance at Cannes to push their Fakir, which will have its premiere in France on May 30. Nobody knows its India release date.
On May 11, the Fakir team will have a Press conference at the India Pavilion, and Dhanush's huge Tamil Nadu popularity may have some kind of rub off at the Festival, though unlike some of the Bollywood bigwigs like Rai, Amitabh Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra and this year, Kangana Ranaut planning to step on the Red Carpet as guest of a liquor company, Dhanush is hardly known outside India. But I presume Cannes may prove to be a great point of introduction to Europe for Dhanush.
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is based on a French novel, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas. True to just about every Dhanush work, his latest is far removed from arthouse trappings. The movie will be an entertainer, an all out entertainer.
Dhanush was not the first choice for the role, Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Man Who Knew Infinity) was. After him, it was Kunal Nayyar. But, Dhanush can get the film flying, for all one knows.
The Extraordinary Journey.. will be truly be a journey taking us to Mumbai, Paris, Spain, Libya and The Falklands, and American actress Erin Moriarty of True Detective fame and Barkhad Abdi, the Somali-American actor best known for his BAFTA-winning performance in Captain Phillips, will be co-travellers along with Dhanush.
The Festival runs from May 8 to 19, beginning on a Tuesday, instead of the traditional Wednesday, and ending on a Saturday, not Sunday – as part of a series of radical steps taken by the Festival's General-Delegate, Thierry Fremaux.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 28 years, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )